Well there’s three versions of this story…..

 

…..mine and yours, and then the truth.

We live in unprecedented times, in so very many ways. Here are my thoughts on my journey exploring who I am in the public sphere, what that means for my life, for my work and my family.


Have you ever seen any of those click-bait friendly lists, preying on nostalgia to lure you to try out your ad-blocker’s defences?

We look at our past through somewhat rose-tinted glasses, which can be a blessing, but can also miss the point of learning from our own mistakes. But what about those mistakes that we never had the chance to make?

A fairly convoluted statement perhaps, so let’s take a little wisdom from Mr. Feeny:

Mr.-Feeny-Handing-Out-Life-Lessons-In-Class-Boy-Meets-World

I have children who are living in a time of immense change that is so different to that of my own childhood.

They’ll never know the mad rush to find a rewritable VHS tape to record my favourite shows, and the pain that came when the schedule changed. The pain of someone walking past the NES and it crashing, knowing all progress on Super Mario Bros. would be lost. What about having to order your food at McDonald’s by having to talk to an actual person? Madness!


The same can be said of some of our colleagues, fresh from University or College. We don’t live in the same world that we did back then.

So where am I actually heading?

The wonderful world of social media.

Who are you on social media? Are you a different version of you on different platforms? Do you troll? Have you been trolled, or worse bullied? Is the life you portray a fictitious or aspirational one?

I am no one to judge here, but there is more wisdom to be gleaned from Mr. Feeny:

mrfeeny

Mr. Feeny is very true that we shouldn’t be motivated by others’ perception of ourselves, but we need to be careful that we are savvy enough to ensure that we are respectful and mindful of others when we do post publicly.

Perhaps, though, each of us also needs to think more carefully when we do use social media actively, about what we are trying to say and why – and how the curation of our online personas can contribute to this age of envy in which we live. When I was about to post on Facebook about some good career-related news recently, my husband asked me why I wanted to do that. I did not feel comfortable answering him, because the truth is it was out of vanity. Because I wanted the likes, the messages of congratulations, and perhaps, if I am brutally honest, I wanted others to know that I was doing well. I felt ashamed. There is nothing like an overly perceptive spouse to prick one’s ego.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/09/age-envy-be-happy-everyone-else-perfect-social-media

I have an ego, I like to share good things and I am more inclined to do so than negatives. I actively avoid commenting on areas of conflict and divisive topics, for the most part, as I find those areas toxic black holes where I almost never see positives and it just becomes car crash viewing for the social media voyeurs.


Why am I writing this post on a predominantly testing blog?

I wrote in my post about staying relevant:

It goes without saying that I am representing myself and there is an obvious association made with my employers. The representation of myself on social media and via blogs can be supremely advantageous for both parties, but can also be a deal breaker, not only with current employers, but any potential future employers.

For that reason, I may be quirky sometimes (for want of a better word), but I try to be mindful of the reception that could be greeted by anything I may post online. This is something that I have become more conscious of since the early days of my social media existence, but worth bearing in mind which posts are publicly viewable.

All I know is I’m lost without you….

I would encourage anyone new to the tech world to actively engage in social media, follow the heck out of people who touch on topics you are interested in. Seek balanced views and not just those that support your own, approach with pragmatism and know your limits.

I was recently promoted to Software Test Manager, I have an implied responsibility to my wonderful team to be an example and also be available to support them, after all an unavailable manager, coach or mentor isn’t exactly one who is particularly useful.

We have been exploring the best way to communicate internally at work, and we all have preferences, we will communicate differently and so this journey will be one in which we will learn new good practices and boundaries.

Ali Hill‘s awesome talk at TestBash Brighton in 2019 covers the struggles that he had with the connected work life.

At my office, our Mental Health First Aid team showed the talk in a lunchtime session and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. It’s a conversation that we need to have.


I don’t know how I will approach this topic with my children when they enter the social media arena, and truth be told, I’m terrified of it happening. I do hope that I can be a good example, but also that I have the restraint to not dictate to them how they should be engaging with these things.

As for my colleagues, friends and any other wonderful people who have made it to the bottom of this post, my commitment to you is to try and be engaging and always respectful, I promise to no longer post the lyrics to Pearl Harbor from Team America: World Police anymore on Facebook.

I will actively seek accountability, it’s why I started Testing Peers with some wonderful testers.


Blog post title lyrics from: Shame – by Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

To all the people who can Quest like A Tribe does…..

…..before this, did you really know what live was?

So, last night there was a thunderstorm and I did not sleep well at all.

But, the good news is that I started playing around with words in my head, because why wouldn’t I?

Maybe it’s a coincidence that I was reminded of this tweet only yesterday:

https://twitter.com/danaschwartzzz/status/1039212233144684544?lang=en

I love wordplay, be it rhyming, alliteration or portmanteaus. And it is the latter two that seemed to grab my attention. I started playing in my mind with words that began with ‘TR’ for no apparent reason. As I noted some of them down, I started to think about how these could actually be used as a mnemonic for successful software development projects.

For those of you who have stuck around for a while, you’ll know that I started working through Michael Bolton‘s (F)EW HICCUPPS mnemonic. I’m still short of CUPPS, I’ll get there eventually, I promise. (F)EW HIC can be found here.


So without further ado, I present my new alliterative portmanteau mnemonic:

drumroll

TR-emonic

Maybe not as exciting as you may think an alliterative portmanteau mnemonic could be – and I might have used a lot of artistic license – but here we go!

TREMONIC

  • Treaty
  • Traffic
    • We are looking at an end goal, we need to navigate through the traffic, roadbloacks and unforseen delays on the way
  • Transpose / Translate
    • If we’re lucky enough to have requirements and specification, there is still a lot that is open to interpret and mould into a working application. I often come back to the definitions of verification (did we build the thing right) and validation (did we build the right thing)
  • Trio / Trifecta / Triad
    • The Three Amigos
    • So, a Product Owner, a Developer, and a Tester walk into a bar sit down to talk about something that the system under development should do.  The Product Owner describes the user story.  The Developer and Tester ask questions (and make suggestions) until they think they can answer the basic question, “How will I know that this story has been accomplished?

      http://blog.gdinwiddie.com/2009/06/17/if-you-dont-automate-acceptance-tests/

  • Tranche
    • Slice up our workload into bitesize pieces that we can digest within our sprint cycle
  • Trim
    • There is always an element of refinement (not just in refinement meetings) and we need to be flexible enough to make changes as we go along to meet MVP
  • Try / Trial
    • We need to be given the freedom to try things and fail. Accountability and creativity are a must
  • Tribe
  • Transferable
    • Skills, a codebase and documenatation that is transferable is vital, as are the people who work. We want to avoid single points of failure and stagnation
  • Track
    • Tracking our work, our successes and failures are all important to learn and continuously improve. Examples of this are found in the Scrum Ceremonies
  • Transparent / Traceabe
    • Accountability in development is so important, and for the wider business an understanding of the weird and wonderful world of Agile/Scrum/DevOps or “whatever those development teams call it” it is important to involve those who aren’t au fait with our terminonologies. Often we can use a kanban on a wall, or a software tool like JIRA, TFS or other tools are available
  • Trade
    • We have to work with others, maybe a different team or department. Better communication and collaboration is beneficial to the business
  • Transcend
    • If you ask one of your colleagues if they follow their job description (if they even have one) to the letter, I would hazard a guess that most would say that they often do other things. Maybe it’s engineer who is also involved in UX or MHFA. These are good things.
    • We also look to create T-shaped engineers
  • Trip
    • I guess this could either fall under traffic or:
    • We stumble, we make mistakes, we learn from them and iterate
  • Triage
    • Bugs. Whether or not you have a zero defects policy or some sort of bug handling process, software has bugs and they can be reported by customers, stakeholders and development teams. An efficient and effective triage process for these bugs should be detailed, outlined and carried out
  • Transport
  • Train
    • A release plan is important, to add focus and bring the product to market as soon as possible and tighten the feedback loop from development to production. In SAFe they use the Agile Release Train
  • Transmit
    • We should project and broadcast (definitely internally, if not externally) our plans
  • Transform
    • 06_Grimlock_2
    • Not just an excuse to include my favourite Transformer, Grimlock, but we should be looking to transform, innovate and iterate, ourselves as well as our products. Investing in our future is important
  • Transact
    • As mentioned earlier, we should have an end goal, even if it’s just a major update or product increment. It’s very deflating to work years on end with no published product. We need closure
  • Treasure
    • Rewards, be them a product release or targets being met, we should celebrate our victories.

Maybe too long as a mnemonic? But, the theme is there, more a heuristic? Let me know your thoughts.


Blog post title lyrics from: Can I kick it – by A Tribe Called Quest.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

You say either and I say either You say neither and I say neither…..

…..Either, either, neither, neither Let’s call the whole thing off

Do you sometimes find yourself on a totally different page to colleagues when it comes to your understanding of something?

It could be something as simple as misunderstanding of terminology, implementation, people’s names, the use of a meme on a slack channel.

Actually, I would say it happens in life outside of work too. My wife once asked me to go downstairs to get her Mac, and when I returned with a cagoule, I got laughed at relentlessly for what felt like two hours – we have that kind of relationship, it’s a good thing.

doh

Misunderstandings can be pretty hilarious at times, but can also have negative consequences to your output or even lead to people being upset.

Have you ever tried asking a few people for what their definition of what exploratory testing is? I’m sure you’ll find a few different responses. Does one definition supersede another?


I have been thinking a lot about this in recent weeks, looking into inducting new starters, perhaps in the form of a bootcamp style induction. I know I’m not the only one, Leigh Rathbone was talking about this on LinkedIn the other day, and he is so right.

Other examples of where wires get crossed could be in requirements gathering, the content of tickets in JIRA (or your favourite tool), in email, IM, testing terminologies…..the list goes on. How easy it is to get lost down a rabbit hole, far from where you need to be.

halfixinglightbulb


In a blog post I wrote last year, I covered the output of a test team meeting that we had, where we posed the question “what attributes/characteristics help to make a good tester?”

One of the responses here has bubbled back to the surface as I have been in this season of semantics, that is Critical Thinking.

As a frequent visitor to imgur.com, I came across a handy little critical thinking cheatsheet, which I think is a nice little thought provoker. I managed to find the original source, which you can find at wabisabilearning.com

criticalthinkingcheatsheet


You hear it said that no question is a stupid question, now as a father to two very inquisitive little boys, sometimes you can feel like there is, but we learn through these questions. Even when you’re the one being asked, you learn to present information in a more easy to understand and digest form.

Many heuristics and techniques exist for these things, the 5 Whys being another, Start with why and so on.


I feel like I should finish with some sort of profound statement, but in essence it comes down to respectful communication. While writing this blog post, I came across this tweet, and the tone is respectful and useful, we should follow this example.


Blog post title lyrics from: Let’s call the whole thing off – by Ella Fitzgerald and (uncle) Louis Armstrong.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

 

 

 

If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere…..

…..you better wake up and pay attention

This is a journey of self discovery, but the more I think about it, the more I suspect that I probably have, and always have had ADHD.


As with any disorder, it is common that it can be misdiagnosed, or even just thrown out there as an excuse for something (see also OCD).

I have grown up with people occasionally throwing the term ADD or ADHD my way, but what do they know? I was perfectly normal, right?

Anyway, I’ve been able to get on in life ok. I have a job that I love, some very tolerant friends and a wonderful family, who I appreciate so much.

It is thanks to my eldest son that I have looked more into this. He started school this year and is turning into his own wonderful self, more and more. In this day and age, it is easy to attach a label to kids, especially ADHD, and then deal with however they are from there.

Surely all little boys are a little distracted and not so easy to stay engaged? Maybe?

Looking at the NHS website’s symptoms of ADHD, they list the following:

Symptoms in children and teenagers

The symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are well defined, and they’re usually noticeable before the age of 6. They occur in more than one situation, such as at home and at school.

Inattentiveness

The main signs of inattentiveness are:

  • having a short attention span and being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
  • appearing forgetful or losing things
  • being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
  • appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
  • constantly changing activity or task
  • having difficulty organising tasks

Hyperactivity and impulsiveness

The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:

  • being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
  • constantly fidgeting
  • being unable to concentrate on tasks
  • excessive physical movement
  • excessive talking
  • being unable to wait their turn
  • acting without thinking
  • interrupting conversations
  • little or no sense of danger

These symptoms can cause significant problems in a child’s life, such as underachievement at school, poor social interaction with other children and adults, and problems with discipline.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/

Having read the lists on Inattentiveness as well as Hyperactivity and impulsiveness, I could resonate with a lot of them.

But, I’m aware that it is easy to see yourself in situations and scenarios that you read, and in reality not fit with those things.


One of my colleagues attended TestBash Brighton 2019, and in his recap of what he picked up at the conference day, he quoted something about implicit bias from Ash Coleman‘s talk. What we think is our bias, may not be. It was suggested to look at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html


I consulted Dr. Google, and came across totallyadd.com – apparently ADHD in adults hasn’t really had a lot of research, and is in its infancy. But, what a welcoming community it is, blogs, forums and so on.

There is also a quiz that can be taken, to help inform. All with the proviso that nothing there will replace an actual diagnosis.

That being said, I took the test and it was suggested that I could have The Combined Subtype of ADHD.

Those of us with this type of ADHD struggle with Attention and Distractibility. We may be forgetful, sensitive, distracted, or overwhelmed by hectic situations.

As well, like a majority of people who have ADHD, we also struggle with Hyperactivity and Impulsivity. We may feel restless, talkative, impatient, and have strong emotions. But also driven, curious, creative, with lots on the go.

Together, problems with Attention, Restlessness, and Impulsivity make up the Combined Subtype of ADHD.

(Some people struggle with Attention but not Hyperactivity or Impulsivity. They may be quieter, daydreamers, often lost in thought That’s known as the Predominantly Inattentive Subtype.)

NOTE: ADHD/ADD is a spectrum disorder. So there’s a range of symptoms and severity. Some symptoms may be a constant challenge for you, others rarely.


So, what does this mean for me as a husband, father and software tester in my mid-thirties?

It’s safe to say that knowing this information will help to educate me and indeed my family. I need to be apologetic to my wife when it comes to paying attention, staying on-task and so on. Her patience is a daily blessing.

As for my boys, ADHD can be hereditary, so it’s possible that they could have it as well. The good news is, that I turned out ok…..I think. The more we learn, the more we can work together through it. Talking about it is important, as with any mental health issues. It is normal, it is life and I wouldn’t change it.

For my job as a tester……well I think it’s kind of ideal.

But also driven, curious, creative, with lots on the go.

Testers often have a lot on the go, we are a driven group and two of the most important attributes of a tester are curiosity and creativity.

  • I always want to learn more
  • Repetitive tasks turn me off
  • I am able to be reactive to various situations
  • I can quickly learn new information and share
  • When something catches my interest, boy does it stick. See:
    • Wrestlers of the 90s
    • Football (soccer)
    • Countries of the world (and capitals)
  • With the resources out there now, I don’t need heavy text books, I can read blogs and Tweets

Now maybe this post is a little bit of a meander through my thoughts, but it is important to recognise who we are and how we can work better. In previous posts regarding soft skills, communication and coaching, I have touched on the importance of self-awareness. Being self-aware is what can make or break us in a work environment.

This is me as I become more aware of who I am. It is still early in the journey. But, it’s an interesting one.


Blog post title lyrics from: Pay Attention – by Sister Act 2 Cast.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

I’ve got the skills to pay the bills….

Who really likes the term “Soft Skills”?

As testers, we find ourselves testing, even when we aren’t testing, and semantics is a fine example of that.

Rick Tracy gave a Soapbox talk on ‘Testing the city’, at EuroSTAR 2017, and he touched again on that in longer form, with his talk ‘Are we crazy?’ at UKSTAR 2019.

Part of his talk’s blurb is:

Testing is dangerous. No, I don’t mean it’s hazard-pay dangerous or wear-your-helmet dangerous, but it is drive-you-crazy dangerous. We work in an industry that is constantly, deliberately, and effectively driving us nuts.

https://ukstar.eurostarsoftwaretesting.com/submission/are-we-crazy/

Sometimes we struggle to let go, and sometimes we can’t stop noticing faults, defects, imperfections, irritations etc.

Even today, I was getting irrationally upset about anomalous apostrophes in a restaurant’s menu. Sometimes I need to let go.


In In my mind, my body and my soul….. I talked about the need for testers to have strong communication skills, highlighting further the need for diplomacy, pragmatism, emotional intelligence, and a greater awareness and appreciation of our love languages along with those of our colleagues.

The more I think about it, the more these “soft skills” are something that I find hard to quantify. Wikipedia’s opening spiel about these are:

Soft skills are a combination of people skillssocial skillscommunication skillscharacter or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes,[1] social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, among others, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.[2] The Collins English Dictionary defines the term “soft skills” as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_skills

My testing instinct, that gut feeling that you have when something doesn’t sit right with you, just has a hard time to resolve that in common parlance, these skills are soft, whereas something more tangible, or measurable is hard.

softskillshardskillsinfographic

This infographic is presented without any particular point, other than a means to add a visual stimulant to this monologue of a thought process.


I’m aware that I have bias regarding soft skills, I believe that it is one of my strengths and something I really look for when recruiting testers. But, why should testers be the only ones for whom we are paying attention to these skills?

Why is something that is so hard to teach, called soft?

What do you look for in your managers, your coaches and your leaders?

An exciting return to Sporting Analogy Corner:

When you look at some of the world’s greatest footballers, did they all transition into superstar managers?

Not all, but some did. Look at Zinedine Zidane, Franz Beckenbauer or Didier Deschamps.

But then again some really didn’t work out, Diego Maradona or Alan Shearer, for example.

Then there are success stories in management who weren’t superstar players. Such as. Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger or Joachim Loew.


It’s all about balance really, we all have our own mix of the two columns and hopefully we will all find our place. But, why can’t we give them different names?

I put out a quick question on Twitter, what could we rename soft skills and hard skills, below are some of the replies.

  • Learned and taught
  • Interpersonal and tech
  • Peoplegood and Computergood
  • Light magic and dark magic

Maybe you’ve got more suggestions?


Blog post title lyrics from: Skills to pay the bills – by Beastie Boys.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

These are my confessions…..(as a Huddler)

Updated November 2019

So with UKSTAR 2019 passing and EuroSTAR 2019 fast approaching, I’m building toward my fifth stint volunteering in the Community Huddle(at EuroSTAR and UKSTAR*).

*other wonderful conferences are available

It’s a long old slog, but a very rewarding one, here’s my way of running my very own retrospective of them all to date….in no particular order, and then what I am looking forward to this year.

And then looking forward to EuroSTAR 2019, where I have a new responsibility as 2019 Community Huddle Host….what that means, what I’m looking forward to and what my goals are.

You can meet the 2019 Volunteer Team here – it links to this website, so you could go all meta, if you so desire.


What is the Huddle?

This community huddle has two guises:

    • The online community presence of EuroSTAR; blogs, tester’s chat, webinars etc. are hosted from there. https://huddle.eurostarsoftwaretesting.com/ is where you can find it. That isn’t the focus of this blog, as I can’t confess to have contributed to that. It has had a recent facelift, so check it out!
    • The expo booth hosted at EuroSTAR and UKSTAR conferences, formerly the Community Hub.
      • For EuroSTAR 2019, I have written a little intro to my vision for the Community Huddle.

I’m honoured to be the first Huddle Director, leading our wonderful team
of volunteers in the Huddle area at EuroSTAR 2019.
Some of the greatest and most valuable experiences I have had
attending conferences have been through the conversations that I have
had with my fellow testers. That is why the Huddle exists! The Huddle
is hosted by the testing community for the testing community. We have
three distinct areas, and I want to invite you to explore them all.
The Test Clinic is where you can discuss, debug and dive deeper oneto-
one with an expert in the field of testing. Our volunteer doctors will be
joined by some guests from different testing fields with whom you can
book your sessions, to get to the bottom of your testing issues.
The Test Lab is where you can get stuck in, our team will be hosting
games, puzzles and hands-on activities where you can learn by doing
and practically enjoying our craft.
The Huddle is the heart of the people side of testing, we will
have games, couch sessions with some of the speakers,
and your opportunity to get up on the soapbox
and share your ideas!
Browse the timetable of events in the guide, which is
just a small sample of what is happening. Please
come and say hello to any of the volunteers,
get more information and keep an eye out
for announcements via the Whova app, as
well as Instagram and Twitter using the
hashtag #EuroSTARConf.
The Huddle is here for you. So
make sure to get involved, to meet
delegates and make the most of the
opportunity to learn, share, explore
and connect.

    • The UKSTAR conference’s team wrote a nice little intro to this year’s UKSTAR conference here. I would say, there was some added pressure with the message on the sign:20190311_093317.jpg

How did I become a Huddle volunteer?

This was pure chance.

I follow a lot of Twitter accounts, if I find the word tester in the bio, I’m likely to follow. One such account is EuroSTAR’s Huddle account. I was browsing Twitter one evening; while sitting on the floor of my youngest son’s bedroom, whilst I held his hand to help him sleep; and came across a call for volunteers for the upcoming EuroSTAR conference in Copenhagen (2017). There were four areas that you could volunteer: Cadets, Test Clinic, Test Lab and the Huddle.

The Cadets help to facilitate the conference, they steward and help out wherever required, they were everywhere and they are awesome.

The Test Clinic volunteers get to wear special doctor’s jackets and are there to help solve some issues, again they are selfless and awesome.

The Test Lab is where demonstrable testing takes place, from robots and coding to bug hunts and other fun activities, it’s a hustle and bustle that is so much fun.

The Huddle though, it stood out for me. When I talk about what my favourite aspect of testing is, I always go to the people side of things. I love people, I love coaching and getting the best out of people and I love sharing stories and experiences.

I also had the experience of being massively overwhelmed at that very conference, and wanted to enable others to get more out of their conference experience than simply the wide range of talks on offer.

Conferences of any size can be a lonely place, and all you need sometimes is a friendly face.

Also, volunteers received a free conference ticket, which they should, of course. I don’t think I could have attended any other way.

As I mentioned in All I know is I’m lost without you…. , at my workplace, we encourage testers to be engaged with the wider testing community, including blogs, meetups, and conference attendance. So, walking the talk, is important.

 

What went well?

To keep from writing a full retrospective, I’ll just list things here:

  • Lean coffee – even if this isn’t the most well attended event on the calendar, candid and useful conversations always take place in these sessions.
  • Couch sessions – these are where speakers at the conference are invited to ‘host’ a more intimate and informal session on a topic of their choice, within the Huddle space…..where usually we have couches. I’m often in awe of these ‘famous’ testers who are willing to give their time to share their wealth of knowledge and experience with our keen minds. At UKSTAR 2019, we introduced Huddle stand-ups, as we didn’t have couches, and made them less formal bringing the topics of discussion to the forefront.
  • Soapbox sessions – much like a lightning talk, willing delegates are given time to propose ideas, share thoughts and speak to the local Huddle audience on a wide array of testing topics, I’ve been inspired by some of these talks more than some of the track sessions.
  • Introducing new ideas – I could have wrapped these into the preceding three bullet points, but I wanted to emphasise the value in having a space to talk about, and demonstrate new ideas to people. I am a visual learner, and this is right up my street. At UKSTAR 2019 alone, we introduced a forum on meetups and also TestSphere, with RiskStorming.

 

  • Games and prizes…..we all love swag, and how we facilitate that, be it through selfies, duck pond, beer pong or other, it’s always worth it.
  • Stickers!!! – delegates are invited to decorate their lanyards with stickers, not only with national flags, but also punny or proclaiming test type stickers, they can act as conversation starters, or laptop decorations.
  • We have run first timer networking sessions, discussion spaces for celebrating women in tech, and other fun and informative sessions.

What didn’t go well?

Not everything goes to plan, we are humans and we are fallible.

  • We’ve had couch sessions planned when there was a fire alarm.
  • At EuroSTAR 2018, we replaced the Soapbox with a stage, that was apparently too intimidating, and only one (Ioana) braved the stage.
  • We’ve given away too many prizes too soon.
  • We’ve given away too few prizes, and had too many left over at the end.
  • I have hosted solo at the UKSTAR conferences, and when I have attended talks, track-chairing or other, I haven’t been present for delegates to interact with at the Huddle (blessing in disguise?).

There’s probably more things, I’m maybe too close to the Huddle to see all areas of improvement.

Why did I come back for more?

return

On one hand, it was ego. They seemed to like me, and asked me back. Words of affirmation can be motivators, and I am not shy to admit it.

Conferences are a huge source of impetus, recharge and inspiration. The medium of talks, in a live environment are second to none. I am always more engaged in such an environment, than via its online counterpart, the webinar. The presence of a speaker, whether it be hugely energetic, funny, raw, emotional, honest and humble, captures my attention and enables me to learn more from their experiences, than I ever could in written word. I have used several talks that I have attended as points of reference for blogs, in conversations with colleagues or peers and expect to do so more.

I get so much from interacting with other testers. Sharing ideas, anecdotes, struggles and so on, is such a great way to learn and also to teach. Testers are naturally keen learners and we often teach organically, conversations create content, drive our development both personal and professional and feed into our working lives.

If I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job, I would stand aside. I don’t know how I will feel if I attend as a delegate (or maybe, even a speaker one day) and am not on the Huddle.

How could things be improved?

I’d like to think that things have incrementally improved on each occasion, but I honestly believe that all things have potential improvement, and am critical of my own work, always.

Back when the Huddle was the Hub, they had a backdrop that was a black chalkboard-esque wall, it was a space where there could have been the opportunity and space for those who have artistic tendencies, to express themselves. Now, I’m not very artistic, but I would love it if we could include such a space in the Huddle.

It’s fair to say that for some, that the hustle and bustle environment during the break times at a conference, can be pretty overwhelming, and the last thing that you would then want is to go to somewhere with a lot more stimulation. Sometimes there is a real need to chill, and to have somewhere for quiet solace. I don’t know whether that’s something that could be facilitated in the Huddle, but I do think that it would be a valuable space.

So, I’m back as Huddle Director, what does that mean and how is it different?

Firstly, to be asked to come back is a massive honour, and to do so as someone who will coordinate the Community Huddle Team is incredibly humbling, exciting and terrifying.

What we have looked to change this year is a greater coordination, feeling of togetherness and team across all three disctinct areas.

This will be addressed in the positioning of the three areas together in the expo, not divided, but together, to offer a wide range of activities and chances to engage with others, in one place.

We will still have the the Test Lab with hand-on activities, the Test Clinic with problem solving one-to-one deep dives and the Huddle with all the other highly enjoyable madness.

We will have a more joined up timetable and we won’t be bound by our specific areas.

There are many ways conferences plug events and encourage interaction at conferences, and as of UKSTAR 2019, Whova has been the app of choice, this will continue with EuroSTAR 2019, I love engaging with the community, and having ‘won’ the leaderboard at UKSTAR 2019 I’ll try and make it a double in Prague.

Screenshot_2019-10-22-10-18-29-121_com.whova.event

Beyond that, there will be a quiet room, which will be a tech free zone….I forget what that’s like sometimes.


That’s all very nice Chris, but it’s not much of a confession….

That’s probably fair, so here’s the struggle.

There is a sacrifice to be given, to serve the community. That is time and to a lesser degree financial.

I want to concentrate on the former here.

It is exhausting.

The advice I give to those attending is to take time for yourself, so you don’t burn out. Conferences can be full on, and you want to attend everything. So, imagine doing that, and hosting a community booth, where you are constantly engaging and networking, discussing and sharing your great enthusiasm for a duck pond.

I have now learnt how to manage that, but it is not easy.

The harder part though, is time away from family.

missmyfamily

We have a lovely family unit, and I always feel guilty when I am away. My wife works incredibly hard and she doesn’t get a break when I am away. I can only thank them for the support they have given me over the years.

I always look forward to returning home, they are the reason that I am motivated to continuously improve myself, and I love them all.

theresnoplacelikehome


Blog post title lyrics (-as a Huddler) from: Confessions Part II – by Usher.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

The long and winding road…..

…..that leads to your door

Dealing with mental health is important.

I don’t think I ever really appreciated that until a few years ago.

I don’t think I really even understood what mental health even meant.

I am only just now beginning to understand what it is. If I look retrospectively at my own life, how I have coped (or not coped) with various events and emotions, who I am and who I was, it makes me feel uncomfortable, these feelings can leave a permanent mark. But, with the power of hindsight and a growing awareness of mental health, I can begin to understand a process these things.

smartboardmarker

 

 


I love my commute….said no one ever?

In a previous post, I  touched upon the value that I place on face-to-face communication. And for me, I think it goes a little deeper than that, unlike what feels like an ongoing trend, I am not a fan of working remotely, to the point where I drive a 120 mile round trip to the office every day.

I moved house last year, and in doing so I extended my commute to the office by another ten miles each way. That takes some explaining to people.

We moved to be closer to family than we were, we have a young family and no one likes a four hour drive. But, I didn’t want to change my job, I like my job. So, I made a spreadsheet and got a map, taking into consideration distance to work and distance to family. We had a budget and we had a timescale and eventually the move came about with a couple of weeks to spare.


Why would anyone willingly drive that far?

It’s a good question, and one I answer a lot. To the point where I probably answer in auto-pilot mode half the time.

I was already commuting a near 100 mile round trip when I took this job, so what’s another 20 miles between friends?

My drive is my time, it is an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening when I am in my own company, I can process my thoughts, I am not trapped in a screen time loop (Google Maps aside), I can listen to some quality podcasts (see All I know is I’m lost without you…. for some testing blog suggestions), smash out some power ballads uninterrupted and really be able to tap into the benefits of the diffuse mode  – see https://tedsummaries.com/2015/03/04/barbara-oakley-learning-how-to-learn/

Life is busy, work is busy, having a family is busy…..

IMG_3531

This is my boys in their normal mode.

Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the development department at work for comparison, but use your imagination.

Time out is important.

Are there any benefits?

I don’t have a man cave.

An emotional sanctuary for men when they’re stressed and need “space” or time away from females, responsibilities, etc.

Sam went offline and wouldn’t answer calls, retreating to his man cave to think.

#emotional withdrawl#silent treatment#communicating#verbal#retreat

From <https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=man%20cave>

Since we moved, our spare room is full of boxes (metaphor for technical debt?). And life is busy.

So, my commute is a little like my version of a man cave.

Surely there are costs?

Financial costs are higher, running a car increases the more you drive.

Time cost is the big one, I love my family, and despite what I have said about needing solace, I need my family. My boys and my wife are what motivate me, inspire me and keep me going. If my commute was halved, then I’d have an extra hour a day with them. That is tough.

How does that impact my mental health?

Fortunately where I work, we have flexible hours and management who understand the importance of family and work/life balance.

I’m not a big sleeper, so I can get up before the boys wake up and make sure I’m at home for family dinner, bath time, bed-time stories (however repetitive some of those are) and valuable time with my wife.

At my work, we have had more and more mental health awareness talks, signage and even team members attending Mental Health First Aid courses.

We have regular 1:1s, and I know that if I’m struggling I have the support required.


At EuroSTAR 2013, I attended a talk by Pekka Marjamäki entitled Testing Me, he touched upon the opportunities he found when presented with a longer commute, but also the challenges and ultimately where he found himself wasn’t in a good place.


I am still working through these things, but I plan on exploring them more through some future posts.

I have been considering a post by Danielle Zeigler, where she outlines 27 Simple Ways To Recharge Your Batteries and already a few jump out as some that really resonate with me:

  • Get outside during lunch. Take a walk, eat outside, go to a local cafe. The main point is to get away from the office and your computer screen.

This is something that has been a bit of a new year’s kick for me and some colleagues, it’s definitely good to stretch the legs.

  • Take a mental health day from work. Watch your favorite movies, meet up with a friend, walk around your neighborhood, see a matinee movie. Sometimes being “bad” is just what you need.

I am working on this, it can be hard sometimes to totally disconnect, I’m using things like IFTTT and do not disturb modes on my smartphone so that I don’t get involved in work things at home.

  • Start a bucket list. Thinking about your goals in life will help you focus on the big picture and what will truly makes you happy.

For me, this springs from conversations that we have at home, what we want to do, where we want to go….it’s all about Disney World!

  • Create something. Work on one of those projects you’ve neglected…

I’ve taken a small bit of artistic license, and removed the Pinterest reference in this point, but creating is something I love to do, this blog is a vehicle for me to be creative!

  • Take a 20-minute cat nap.

This is more something I’d love to do. I love a good nap.

  • Exercise! Aim for 30 minutes of medium-high intensity exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Regular exercise will help regulate hormones (hello, endorphins!), increase circulation and often helps people clear their minds and reduce stress.

Lunchtime walks aside, I have joined my local tennis club and am really enjoying it. It is energising.

  • Make a playlist of all of your favorite songs. Play them at home or take a drive and sing along at the top of your lungs.

 

Take a look, see what you can do. Don’t be afraid to talk about your mental health.


Blog post title lyrics from: The long and winding road – by The Beatles.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

 

Mister blue sky is living here today…..

…..hey hey

I love my job and I love being a tester.

I’m driven by new things, continuous change, new ideas, new approaches

infinity

…..but, somehow also settled by routine, familiarity and confidence in the known.

This is the chasm in which I exist, and I don’t want to change it. If I stand still, I will get bored, disconnect and be uninspired.

daily_grind


When talking about where you work and what you do – if you like where you work, how do you sell it?

I’ve seen a couple of talks at conferences by Kristian Karl, and he very nicely articulates the Spotify Model, sharing with us how they work at Spotify, something that he buys into.

The reason I attend talks are to hear different ideas, experiences and lessons learned. What can inspire me to find new ways to work in my setting? Even if my organisation is nothing like Spotify, what can I learn and be inspired to take back with me?

Incidentally, I have a terrible Spotify playlist that is populated entirely with the songs that I use the lyrics from for my post titles. You can find it in the menu or here.


Last year, my company made a recruitment video and I was a part of it. We were asked to talk about various things that make working where we are an enjoyable experience, to sell our company to prospective applicants.

One thing that we can sell working here is the use of Blue Sky time [from around 1:49].

And this is one thing that I have found intrigues many of my peers that I meet, so here is my take on what Blue Sky time is for us, how I and others have used it and why I think it is something that could be beneficial for you and your organisation.


Blue Sky?

work on inspirational projects either as part of a team or individually.

From <https://jobs.picotech.com/vacancies/software-engineer1>

We give everyone in development the opportunity to take a day each sprint (we have two week sprint cycles) to use for Blue Sky time.

This comes in many different forms, such as:

  • learning a new coding language
  • studying for a certification
  • taking courses
  • attending webinars
  • creating presentations to share ideas, thoughts
  • developing an idea, proposal
  • try different things out
  • collaborate on work that isn’t on sprint
  • writing a blog (….that you’re reading, thanks by the way)

How is it organised?

There is a lot of freedom to choose what we do.

We hold quarterly ‘town hall meetings’ where we can discuss all together what is and isn’t working. We have regular 1:1s where we can discuss things we might want to try and even seek funding for. We submit short weekly reports, where we include what we’ve been working on. And, we are encouraged, if possible to share our findings or find ways to implement what we’ve done into our work culture.

We also have a physical Blue Sky Board. On the board, people can show what they’re working on, what they might want to work on or even ideas that they have, but can’t work on. People from other departments are encouraged to take a look and even suggest ideas.


Any successes?

snape

Absolutely.

  • New products and software features have come to market as a result of this time
  • Processes have been improved
  • Automation has had a kick start, or refinement
  • New tools and ways of working have been introduced
  • My blog happened as a result of this time. I have been able to share not only with my testing colleagues, but other colleagues and the wider world, what has inspired me, what we have experienced, what testing is and how we think it could or even should be

Why should you consider it where you work?

Creative people thrive and are engaged and have something different to get their teeth into. Given the time and resource to make idea into a reality – not everything that goes into the sprint backlog can be, but having that time to kindle the fire can only be healthy. Exploration is in our human nature and nurturing this is healthy and essential to stimulate the creativity required in development.


So it’s foolproof?

It is not.

Sometimes I have struggled to engage fully in an idea.

Sometimes I am uninspired.

I have had times when there was a pressing need to do ‘the day job’.

It is ok to fail, not complete things, not every idea bears fruit.

Alex Circei used a nice diagram in his blog Overcome Self-Doubt.

success

It would be boring if it was easy and straightforward anyway.

I would encourage you to give it a try, if you can’t do it at work, why not set aside a regular slot to try something out in your own time?


Blog post title lyrics from: Mr. Blue Sky – by Electric Light Orchestra.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

In my mind, my body and my soul…..

…..I’m doing everything and I’m doing it all With love!

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.
Rollo May
Has anyone ever mentioned the importance of communication to you?
As testers, communication is our bread and butter, if we can’t communicate then how can we promote a quality culture in our teams? how can we articulate any defects? how can we even exist in teams?
The Agile manifesto relies on this, for example:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation

There are other terms that go along these lines, such as team work, collaboration, involving the customers, working together.


When people talk about great football teams, they talk about dynamism and diversity in a team, but also strong leaders and communication.

I am an Arsenal fan, and often they have been said to play beautiful football, without an end product. Lack of leadership is often cited as a problem, no voice in the dressing room.


So, what does make for good communication? What are the competencies that make us good communicators?

83weeks

The infamous Eric Bischoff (from the wonderful world of pro wrestling), often cites the importance of context when he is story telling from his past. Knowing your audience is also key.

There are of course, no hard and fast rules for communication and I am no expert, but here are the five things that I try to keep in mind with communication.

1. Face-to-face communication is the best

This comes from a man who is writing a blog, communicates in memes and gifs daily at work and home. But, there is so much missing when we can’t read tone or body language – Albert Mehrabian’s theory on non-verbal communication as an example.

But, rather than pressing someone else’s theory, in my experience, I have found a pitch or an ability to articulate myself on the fly, getting words out of my mouth and gesticulating enthusiastically as I speak about something, is so much more effective than written word.

I recently tried to share a problem with some testing peers, and the brain dump didn’t read well, it’s difficult to engage in helping someone out, if they haven’t even been able to communicate to you what in the world you are on about. Now, we aren’t able to meet face-to-face, but we will have a call and hopefully I will at least address the issue of text-born conversation, by engaging directly…..maybe written text is too disengaging sometimes?

2. Diplomacy

Testers, by very nature are problem finders, but that isn’t really our modus operandi, we are problem solvers. If you use bug tracking software, you know that communicating a defect as clearly as possible, can be an art. There are code reviews, when we question things, stand-ups when we need to feedback and so on.

breakstuff

Skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility : tact handled the awkward situation with diplomacy

From <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diplomacy>

This is our art, it is a must. Practice makes perfect, I get it wrong, often, but I’m getting better with age.

3. Pragmatism

It is also true that testers cannot be siloed, it is in our nature to see the big picture and think outside the box.

I can remember in a job interview; being given a broad scenario to create an on-the-fly test plan for; I was actually encourage to think more inside-the-box.

solving problems in a sensible way that suits the conditions that really exist now, rather than obeying fixed theories, ideas, or rules:

In business, the pragmatic approach to problems is often more successful than an idealistic one.

From <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/pragmatic>

Again, problem solving, showing creativity and trying new things.

4. EQ

Emotional intelligence.

the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately

From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence>

We received coaching training at my office last week, and the emphasis on emotional intelligence what paramount.

EQ

We were encouraged to think more about how we are in coaching scenarios, and I believe that we as testers naturally find a lot of resonance with these competencies. But, we also all have biases and it bears fruit when we remind ourselves and ground ourselves in solid principles around communication.

(Mixed model)

  1. Self-awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
  2. Self-regulation – involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
  3. Social skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction
  4. Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions
  5. Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement

From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence>

5. The Five Love Languages

Now, on the face of this, you could say ‘what’s love got to do with it?’ but, I already used that song in a different post.

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Dr. Gary Chapman was introduced to me when I attended a pre-marriage course at my local church, designed to better prepare the soon-to-be-wed couple for a married life.

The book talks through ways that the perception of love, of acts of love (not that sort) are different depending on the subject.

He breaks these five languages down, in a pretty clear way.

lovelanguages

Now, it takes a moment to abstract this from a loving partnership, into the way that we communicate with our colleagues.

By getting to know those around us, we can observe and learn how they give and receive love. It might be the person in the office who leaves us advent calendars in each team’s bay secretly.

Maybe it’s that colleague who will drop everything they’re doing to be ‘all ears’, giving you the time you need to work through a problem.

In one of our monthly test team meetings, I brought a quiz for us all to confidentially fill out, and feedback any thoughts, to help us to think more about not only how we communicate, but how we perceive people communicating with us.

For me, it is something that has stayed with me, and whenever I re-visit it, I am made aware anew, and strive to be more empathetic to those around me, either at home or at work.


I hope you find some of this thought provoking, maybe you have other things that you consider in relation to communication. I’d be really interested to hear from you on any of these thing, so please get in touch!


Blog post title lyrics from: With love baby – by Witloof Bay.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

I know how it feels to be the loneliest…..

…..welcome back outcasts

Why do we attend conferences? Read blogs? Watch webinars?

How do we engage?


I asked this question to my testing colleagues at work…

Here are the results…

Topics –

  • why you enjoy working
  • explaining how things work
  • topics that aren’t directly test related (e.g. mental health)
  • speakers from companies you’ve heard of (and love their products)
  • lessons learned from experiences
  • good news stories
  • psychology of testers/testing
  • multi-track options (sometimes)
  • relatability
  • automation experiences

Diverse speakers/writers, length of talks/blogs, topics, levels of production etc.

Interactive workshops (such as, the Lego Automation workshop by Richard Bradshaw as mentioned in I’m not afraid, they can read all about it…..)

Humour

Being a part of a community, belonging

Networking (drinks) – meeting other testers, sharing stories

Meetups

Meeting with and interacting with people you’ve followed online, read their blogs

Good venue that’s easily accessible

Great catering

New ideas –

Swag (more notes on this than any other!!)

 

hotornot

People selling themselves, or their products (perception of consultant culture)

Cliques, or the appearance thereof

Narrow or overly opinionated viewpoint, portrayal

Intimidating environment (huge expo, easy to feel lost, lonely)

Blank/empty slides –/– too many words on slides

Appearance of ‘script-reading’, unrehearsed

Prohibitive price

Lack of diversity, both in topic and in speaker (we don’t use Selenium or test web API)


This is obviously a small sub-set and we have seen a lot of benefits to attending conferences.

Ministry of Testing are doing a great job making TestBash more inclusive, they have quiet spaces, open space on their final day and next year in Brighton, they’re even going to have a child care option.

Many conferences have meetups outside of the conferences, early morning runs, swims, lean coffees etc.


At EuroSTAR 2018, in the Hague, I will once again be volunteering in the community huddle, as part of the expo.

We aim to be a welcoming place in a very busy and vast space. My aim in this conference is to try and tick off as many of the ‘Hot’ items and to address some of the ‘Not’ items as part of the Huddle team.

We will be hosting games, quiet spaces, stickers….awkward looking people with a hook-a-duck game

Soapbox talks…

And couch sessions with some of the conference speakers

We aim to make delegates at the conference welcome, to help them to engage and get the most out of their conference experience.


If you’re coming along this year, come along and say hi.

If you’re going to any conference, before you go, try and make a checklist of things you really want to learn, hear, talk about, people you want to see etc.

Take notes, see what you can take back to your workplace.

Know your limits, make space for yourself, don’t burn out. If none of the talks in one session appeal, don’t feel obliged to go to one, we all need time to process things and conferences can be really intense.

If you’re a more experienced conference goer, keep a look out for new guys, it’s not always easy to step out and start a conversation, especially in what can seem like an alien or intimidating environment.

Most importantly, have fun, engage and don’t leave with regrets.


Blog post title lyrics from: Welcome to the new south  – by Less than Jake.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.